Originally created 05/13/02

Voting system changes



ATLANTA - Georgia elections officials from Secretary of State Cathy Cox down to probate judges in the smallest counties readily concede that converting the entire state to electronic voting by November will be a challenge.

The task looks like a relative piece of cake, though, to the company the state has hired to install more than 19,000 touch-screen voting machines in every precinct in Georgia's 159 counties in less than six months.

Diebold Election Systems filled an order 10 times larger than that two years ago when it supplied Brazil with a nationwide electronic-voting system.

"They gave us from April to August to manufacture all of those terminals," said Mark Radke, Diebold's marketing director. "And we got it done."

Diebold, a subsidiary of an Ohio-based manufacturer of automated-teller machines, won the $54 million contract this month in a competition with eight other vendors.

The agreement the company signed with Ms. Cox requires it to meet a series of interim deadlines for manufacture, inspection, delivery and certification of machines, all leading up to final acceptance by the state three days before the Nov. 5 elections.

Diebold also will be closely involved in training local elections officials and poll workers how to use the new equipment.

Under the contract, failure to meet any of the deadlines would result in penalties of up to $135,000 a day.

Ms. Cox began pushing for electronic voting after discovering that Georgia had more uncounted presidential ballots in 2000 than Florida, where the now-infamous hanging chads from punch-card ballots threw the election count into disarray and delayed the result for more than a month.

"I was horrified to know we had 94,000 people who thought they had cast a vote for president and had worn-out equipment not count those votes," Ms. Cox said.

Speeding the timetable will mean getting every voter in Georgia to make the adjustment to electronic voting in the few short weeks between Sept. 10, the date set aside for any runoffs that might arise from the Aug. 20 primaries, and the Nov. 5 general election.

Elections staffers in Richmond County, which is among the punch-card counties, will begin orientation sessions on the new equipment this week, said Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the county board of elections.

Ms. Bailey said the state is hoping to put a demonstration electronic-voting machine in every precinct during the primary balloting, so voters can start to become familiar with the system.

In the weeks after the primary, regional voter-education coordinators will oversee demonstrations at various sites across the state, including civic meetings, school cafeterias and office break rooms.

"It's a very aggressive schedule," said Ms. Bailey. "(But) my counterparts around the state that I've talked to are enthusiastic and feel we're up to the task."

TIMELINE

Diebold Election Systems Inc., the contractor hired by Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox to supply a statewide electronic voting system by the November elections, must meet a number of target dates in the coming months or pay penalties. Here is a breakdown of the timetable:

JUNE 1: Diebold must have developed an implementation plan with the counties.

JUNE 30: About 6,000 voting machines must be assembled and inspected by Diebold; at least 3,000 of them must be delivered to counties and certified ready for state inspection.

JULY 31: Diebold must assemble and inspect 12,200 machines; about 9,000 machines must be delivered to counties and certified ready for state inspection, including those already delivered; all counties must have received training; all counties must have received a server and software for the system.

AUG. 31: All 19,000 machines must be assembled and inspected by Diebold; about 15,600 machines must be delivered to counties and certified ready for state inspection.

SEPT. 18: A general election database must be in place.

SEPT. 30: All 19,000 machines must be delivered to counties and certified ready for state inspection.

OCT. 31: All poll workers must be trained.

NOV. 1: Logic and accuracy testing must be completed.

NOV. 2: Final statewide acceptance

NOV. 5: Election Day

Source: Contract between Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Diebold Election Systems Inc.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.